NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Tuesday brushed aside a government suggestion that it hold off a hearing into privacy issues involving WhatsApp as new rules on data protection issues would be in place by Diwali.
The court indicated that it would press ahead with the hearing as soon as all parties come up with the legal issues to be debated.
“The regulations will be in place by Diwali. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) is already looking into this,” attorney general Mukul Rohatgi told a five-judge bench led by Justice Dipak Misra. “The case may be deferred by a few months.”
Underlining the government’s concern over data protection, Rohatgi said: “When transactions take place through Paytm or BHIM, important financial information is retained by the servers.” Trai is looking at ways and means to ensure that these stay confidential and secure, along with the issue of net neutrality, he said.
“This will take a couple of months.” Justice Misra didn’t accept the suggestion, as well as WhatsApp’s preliminary submission that it does not share any content, messages or data with third parties and so a hearing on the privacy issues was not required.
The top court also rejected a plea by senior advocate Harish N Salve, appearing for those seeking a regulatory code for over the top (OTP) services such as WhatsApp and Facebook, that he would be happy if the government came up with regulations to deal with the matter.
The Constitution bench asked WhatsApp, Facebook and those seeking court intervention to protect their private data from being accessed by over the top services, to submit the legal propositions involved in the issue, such as invasion of a citizen’s right to privacy by private contracts agreed to by the subscriber and the provider.
“How far can you take the private contract theory,” Salve asked. Some private companies nowadays provide free voice calls, so can they tap such calls, he asked.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for WhatsApp, tried to prevail upon the court not to persist with any hearing, arguing that WhatsApp doesn’t share content, data or messages with any third parties.
The bench, after hearing preliminary submissions from all sides, directed them to submit the legal propositions involved in the case by April 24 and listed it for further hearing on April 27.